By Casson Trenor and Mark Bittman
I (Mark) found this salmon filet at Shaw’s, in Berlin, Vermont. Frozen hard. It looked good, and the price was right ($12 a pound, I think, which for real sockeye isn’t at all bad), so I bought it. I had no idea what the numbers meant, so I asked Casson Trenor.
“Accurate species name — Latin name — certification # — FAO catch area — verbatim wild-caught language – Yes, this is very good. It’s nice to see grocery stores putting Latin names on their seafood – it helps consumers avoid confusion. Some fish are plagued by this problem – a big one on the West Coast is Sebastes spp., or the Pacific rockfish. You see that sold as all sorts of things – rock cod, Pacific red snapper, whatever. If we added a Latin name on the label it would be a lot easier. So it’s great to see stickers like the one on this salmon. Where did you find it?”
When I told him, he was surprised:
“This issue that I have is that Shaw’s is owned by SUPERVALU, which is notorious for their disregard of seafood sustainability. They continue to languish near the bottom of the Greenpeace rankings (link). In fact, a SUPERVALU executive once told me that their company was so decentralized that they literally did not even know what seafood they sold. How can you build a sustainable seafood operation on that? It’s terrifying.
“So while I see this labeling system as a positive trend, it is anomalous in terms of how SUPERVALU operates as a larger conglomerate. I strongly suspect that label was created and applied by the supplier that the salmon was purchased from, not by Shaw’s itself. You can see the Marine Stewardship Council (MSC) coding on the label, so may have just been handed down. That’s fine, but why only in Shaw’s? What about at Albertson’s, or Jewel-Osco, or Lucky? And does this mean that SUPERVALU is looking at improving their labeling overall?”
Just to give you an idea of the size of SUPERVALU, here is a quick line-up of its US banners:
I said, “No doubt they’re opportunistic, but us showing this fish to markbittman.com readers is not exactly implicit support of Shaw’s or Supervalu – it’s demonstrating that sometimes you can find what you’re looking for in unlikely places.
“Fair enough,” Trenor responded. “That product itself certainly merits support. Sustainable, fairly priced Alaskan sockeye salmon, frozen and clearly labeled. I’m all for that. It’s just a shame that it’s such a rare occurrence at SUPERVALU that you and I can justify writing a blog post about it.”